Iran reports 2,102 new virus cases, highest in over month

Iranians, some wearing face masks against the Covid-19 coronavirus, attend Laylat Al-Qadr prayers, one of the holiest nights during Ramadan, outside a mosque in the Tehran, on May 13, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 15 May 2020

Iran reports 2,102 new virus cases, highest in over month

  • Iran stopped publishing provincial figures for the coronavirus last month
  • Experts both at home and abroad have voiced skepticism about Iran’s official figures, saying the real toll could be much higher

TEHRAN: Iran on Friday reported its highest number of new coronavirus infections in more than a month as it warned of clusters hitting new regions.
The Islamic republic has struggled to contain the virus that causes the COVID-19 disease since its first cases emerged in mid-February.
Health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said 2,102 new cases were confirmed across the country in the past 24 hours, bringing the overall total to 116,635.
That figure is the highest Iran has announced for a single day since April 6.
Jahanpour said the virus had claimed another 48 lives over the same period, raising the overall death toll to 6,902.
The southwestern province of Khuzestan remained “red” — the top level of Iran’s color-coded risk scale.
Several more provinces could be added to that level of alert, he said.
“Other provinces that we may see rising infections in are Lorestan, Sistan and Baluchistan, and East Azerbaijan,” Jahanpour said in televised remarks.
The spokesman issued what he called a “warning” to residents of the provinces to observe health protocols.
Lorestan lies in western Iran, East Azerbaijan in the northwest, and Sistan and Baluchistan in the southeast bordering Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Jahanpour had said on Thursday that North Khorasan province in the northeast may also be close to “critical condition.”
Khuzestan is the only province so far where authorities have reimposed stringent measures like shutting businesses after a countrywide relaxation in April.
Iran stopped publishing provincial figures for the coronavirus last month.
Of those hospitalized with COVID-19, 91,836 have recovered and been discharged.
Experts both at home and abroad have voiced skepticism about Iran’s official figures, saying the real toll could be much higher.


Lebanon family restless as it awaits missing ‘heroes’

Updated 11 August 2020

Lebanon family restless as it awaits missing ‘heroes’

  • Najib Hitti, 27, Charbel Hitti, 22 and Charbel Karam, 37, all relatives, left together in one firetruck to douse a port blaze believed to have sparked the August 4 mega-blast
  • The Hittis’ hopes of seeing their loved ones alive have dimmed since the army on Sunday said it had concluded search and rescue operations with little to no hope of finding survivors

QARTABA, Lebanon: Three firefighters. One Lebanese family. The same restless wait. Rita Hitti has not slept a wink since the Beirut port blast, when her firefighting son, nephew and son-in-law went missing.
“In one piece or several, we want our sons back,” she told AFP from the Hitti family’s home in the mountain town of Qartaba, north of Beirut.
“We have been waiting for the remains for six days,” she added, dark circles under her eyes.
Najib Hitti, 27, Charbel Hitti, 22 and Charbel Karam, 37, all relatives, left together in one firetruck to douse a port blaze believed to have sparked the August 4 mega-blast that killed 160 people and wounded at least 6,000 others across town.
They were among the first rescuers at the scene. They have not been heard of since.
Near the entrance to their Qartaba home, the three men are praised as “heroes” in a huge banner unfurled over a wall.
The double exposure shot shows them in the foreground dressed sharply in suits.
In the background, the blast’s now-infamous pink plume rises above their heads as they try to douse a fire.
An eerie calm filled the stone-arched living room, where dozens of relatives and neighbors gathered around Rita, the mother of Najib Hitti.
The women were mum, the men whispered between themselves, the young shuffled in and out of the room, quietly.
Karlen, Rita’s daughter, looked among the most sombre, with her husband Charbel Karam, brother Najib and cousin Charbel all missing.
Sitting next to her mother on the couch, she fought back tears and did not say a single word.
The Hittis’ hopes of seeing their loved ones alive have dimmed since the army on Sunday said it had concluded search and rescue operations with little to no hope of finding survivors.
The health ministry has said the number of missing stands at less than 20, while the army announced it had lifted five corpses from beneath the rubble.
A large blaze was still ripping through the blast site when the Hittis and other relatives of port employees dashed to the disaster zone to check on their loved ones.
But they were stopped by security forces.
“I told them I would know my boys from their smell,” Rita said she told an officer who barred her from the site.
“Let me enter to search for them and when I whiff their smell I will know where they are,” the mother said she pleaded.
Ever since, her hopes have gradually dwindled, but her anger is boiling.
Lebanese authorities have pledged a swift investigation but the exact cause of the blast remains unclear.
Authorities say it was triggered by a fire of unknown origin that broke out in a port warehouse where a huge pile of highly volatile ammonium nitrate fertilizer had been left unsecured for years.
Whatever the cause of the fire was, the popular consensus is that the blame rests squarely on the shoulders of officials in charge of the port as well those who have ruled Lebanon country for decades.
“We gave them heroes and they returned them to us as ‘martyrs’,” Rita said, scoffing at the label officials have used to brand blast casualties.
“What martyrs? What were they protecting? The noxious things (authorities) were hiding in the port?” she asked rhetorically.
“They are martyrs of treachery.”
George, father of Charbel Hitti, also rushed to the blast site to look for his son and relatives after the explosion.
“I started to scream their names: Najib, Charbel... I was like a mad man,” he told AFP.
“We waited until 6 in the morning the next day for clues to what happened,” he said.
“In the end, I started crying.”
He did manage, however, to get one piece of information from a port security official close to the family who was at the scene of the blaze when the firefighting team first arrived on August 4.
The security official had told him that the firefighters were trying to break open the door to the ammonium nitrate warehouse because they could not find the keys before the explosion ripped the whole place apart.
A week has since passed and George said hopes of finding the three men alive have faded.
Assuming they are dead, George said he now wants one thing: “We just want DNA test results that are compatible with those of Charbel, Najib and Charbel,” he said.
“Imagine. This is everything we now wish for.”